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Faculty Researchers 2020-2021

The NASA Nebraska Space Grant is excited to highlight our innovative faculty research projects this year. For 2019-2020 projects, click here.

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Dasha Weatherman

Nebraska Indian Community College, Department of Math & Science

NICC Virtual Reality in the Classroom

Over the past two years NICC has enhanced classroom curriculum with the use of Virtual Reality (VR) Headsets on all three campuses. VR is a way to engage students at NICC in many disciplines including Science, Geography, Natural Resources, Biology, and Chemistry. The students have enjoyed the use of VR as a way to explore outside their reservations without ever leaving the comfort of the classroom. NICC is in need of more headsets to meet the demands of the numerous courses using the technology since they first started using it two years ago. This mini-grant helps NICC expand their VR usage among all three campuses.

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Derrick Nero

University of Nebraska at Omaha, Department of Teacher Education

Near Space Testing & Experiments Using High Altitude Ballooning Instrumentation Technologies (NSTE HABIT)

Near Space Testing & Experiments Using High Altitude Ballooning Instrumentation Technologies
(NSTE HABIT) is a project that aligns closely with goals of the NASA Office of Education in that it will provide sustainability and scalability of high-altitude ballooning (HAB) as a platform for K-12 Science educators’ research, academic content extension, and professional development consistent with NASA educational contexts. NSTE HABIT  utilizes lighter than air deployment (i.e., HAB) of hardware and software, experiments, product and/or process development (e.g., prototype and optimized equipment and technologies) for field studies and data collection.

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Christine Wittich

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

WE20: Professional Development for UNL SWE Chapter

This project provides the opportunity for 8 student members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to attend the national SWE conference, WE20. Student participation will be fully virtual as this conference has a modified approach to accommodate COVID-19 precautions. This conference provides professional development for female engineering students, which aligns with NASA's goal to build a diverse STEM workforce.

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Congrui Jin

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Waterless Concrete Competition: Creating Architecture on Mars

As its next step in space exploration, NASA is preparing to send astronauts to Mars by 2033 and start building human habitats soon after. Instead of transporting construction materials from Earth to the red planet with incredibly high cost, using Martian soil to construct a site on Mars is a superior choice. In this project, various forms of waterless concrete composed of simulated Martian soil and waterless binder will be developed, since any available water on Mars will likely be used for propulsion or life support. A competition will be organized to obtain the optimal mixing proportions. A total of 30 college students will participate in the competition. Three teams will be formed, each consisting of ten students. Mechanical tests will be conducted by the students to determine strength properties of the formulated waterless concrete. The students will be taught how to use numerical simulation to predict the mechanical behavior of the formulated concrete and optimize the mix design.


Deepak Khazanchi

University of Nebraska at Omaha, College of Information Science & Technology

CodeCrush Immersion Experience

CodeCrush is a series of events designed to help close the gender gap in technology. What started as a once-a-year, four-day experience has grown to multiple events held three times a year in an effort to be fully inclusive of the Midwest’s diverse population. Focusing on 8th & 9th grade girls, our research has indicated that it is necessary to begin early to address the challenges associated with women entering STEM. Our CodeCrush Immersion Experience brings the girls to the campus of the University of Nebraska at Omah College of IS&T. This immersion experience runs over three days & nights.The program includes educational workshops, cultural activities, corporate visits and funding for scholarships to attend a future program at UNO. CodeCrush has grown to be the largest iSTEM experience for girls and their teachers in the Midwest. CodeCrush is a product of IS&T’s Women in IT Initiative, a community-run task force built to increase the number of women entering the IT workforce.

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Griff Elder

University of Nebraska at Omaha, Department of Mathematics

Mentoring high-performing students into Advanced Topics in Mathematics and Undergraduate Research

The proposed project identifies exceptionally strong students, whose needs are not met in their current classroom, and mentors these students, often double majors (Math/Comp Science or Comp Engineering), through introductory courses into advanced topics in theoretical mathematics, and then beyond: advanced topics and undergraduate research.

This project hires a GTA to support three activities that support high-level achievement:

(1) A Monday problem solving session that supports undergraduate double majors (freshmen/sophomores) and few high school students taking our most advanced courses, while also supporting high school teachers taking graduate versions of those same classes.

(2) A Friday problem solving session that recruits 1st and 2nd year students, by engaging them in advanced problem solving, and supporting a social culture.

(3) An Advanced Topics Seminar: Representation Theory that challenges upper level undergraduates with PhD-level topics.

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Shane Farritor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

JPL Mentored Senior Capstone Design Course

Students in the Engineering Senior Capstone Design course work with NASA JPL engineers on a student project related to COLDArm, a combination SMD/STMD/HEOMD technology development project for a cold operable robotic arm for the Moon.

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Amanda Roe

College of Saint Mary, Department of Biology

Elementary Educator Science Enrichment Workshop Series

The overriding goal of the workshop series is to stimulate interest in STEM by increasing the number of activity and inquiry-based learning experiences children receive during primary education. This program will provide face to face workshops for elementary teachers of STEM, and will build on community-requested educator professional development. Overall, our workshops will provide teachers with authentic STEM experiences which will enable them to increase and improve STEM experiences in their classrooms while allowing the teachers to earn higher education credit. Each of these goals and projected outcomes directly supports the NASA Education Implementation Plan, 2015-2017 (Electronically Enhanced Edition, January 2016).

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Alisa Gilmore

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

UN Robotics Club: Overcoming Off-World Hazards

There are hazardous environments all over the globe, from house fires to landslides, each of these disasters can affect people. However, what if we are on a different celestial body? What hazards can occur there? Our project idea is one that would help overcome some of the off-world hazards. There are two main parts to this project. The first part is to develop a non-rigid exoskeleton. The second part of the project is a drone/rover. Combining the two parts, we will then be able to not only to evaluate any possible hazards over a surrounding area, but also be able to handle some of those hazards with the exoskeleton.


Kendra Sibbernsen

Metropolitan Community College, Department of Math and Natural Science

Go Pro 9 for High Altitude Ballooning

Metropolitan Community College has an established early undergraduate research program using high altitude ballooning. We have several Go Pro cameras that were purchased by NASA Nebraska Space grant, but they are version 3 and the most recent version is a Go Pro 9. We would like to try some of the features on the new camera for ballooning purposes.


Victor Huang

University of Nebraska at Omaha, Aviation Institute 

Airport Inspection and Reporting using Unmanned Aircraft Systems

This study explores safe and practical strategies to incorporate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in airport inspection. The primary scope of work includes inspections for Nebraska Licensing requirements and for the FAA Form 5010 filling. In this study, students directly work with the Aeronautics Commissions of Nebraska Department of Transportation to improve the quality and efficiency of airport inspection using UAS technology. This study not only explores the technological advantages of UAS but also develop safe UAS operating procedures at airport environment. The scope of this study is closely related to a few NASA aeronautics research programs, such as the integration of civil UAS in the National Airspace System and UAS Traffic Management (UTM) research.

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Alisa Gilmore

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Advancing Learning during COVID-19: Support for a Mobile Robotics Remote Laboratory

This project will provide individual robotics kits and teaching assistance support for undergraduate students in a fully remote laboratory that compliments an introductory course in Mobile Robotics. The laboratory kits will provide instruction, hands-on experience and development of students' skills in mechatronics, engineering, system modeling and programming in MATLAB and Simulink from home. These skills are highly transferrable to areas that are relevant to current and future NASA projects.


Jae Sung Park

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Aerospace eXperimental Payloads (AXP) Team

The NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) is a yearly launch opportunity focused on sending small, cube shaped satellites (cubeSats) to space. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Aerospace eXperimental Payloads (AXP) team will be partnering with middle and high school students across the state to develop a cubeSat for the CSLI.

Our team has formed a partnership with similar groups in North Carolina and Florida. The Florida team has previously launched CubeSats through the CSLI and will provide experience to the Nebraska and North Carolina teams. Through this partnership, more students and young adults will be given the opportunity to create CubeSats and the overall reach of the project will expand over a typical CLSI project. In addition to creating a large support network between three teams in three states, the three teams will be able to create telemetry systems between the CubeSats and study the relative orbit decay based on the CubeSats.


Jae Sung Park

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Design/Build/Fly (DBF) Competition

Design/Build/Fly (DBF) Competition is an annual event that brings together teams from around the world to showcase the aerospace engineering capabilities of students. The competition requires from each team the fabrication and optimization of an electrically powered, radio-controlled aircraft specific to the design statements for the year. By taking part in the competition, students gain skills that can be applied to a career based in the aerospace field, along with preparing them for the collaborative work environments that can be expected.


Jae Sung Park

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Robotic Mining Competition

This project is for a team of undergraduate students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to participate in NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition. NASA hosts this competition annually at Kennedy Space Center to further the development of space technology for operations on other planets. The goal of the competition is to design and build an extraplanetary mining robot that can mine for underground materials on lunar surfaces. This project is designed to help develop technology for NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program.


Jae Sung Park

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

UNL Rocketry Team 2020/2021

Husker Rocketry strives to teach members some aerospace fundamentals and various technical skills. This will be accomplished in the coming academic year by continuing our participation in the Spaceport America Cup (SAC) competition. The team’s objective is to complete the rocket we started building last year, while improving on its design. The rocket will reach an altitude of 10,000 feet while containing a suite of cameras that will be controllable from the ground. With this specific payload, we will have the opportunity to teach members about electrical systems, wireless transmission technology, the manufacturing process of carbon fiber, and the basics of aerospace design. Husker Rocketry allows for education and experience in the aerospace field, something that is not available from the UNL College of Engineering. Through projects and outreach, we provide people with experiences that are important for obtaining NASA internships, co-ops, employment, and their dreams beyond.


Jae Sung Park

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC)

The International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC) holds the world’s longest running aerial robotics competition. The current mission, Mission 9, challenges teams to build a fully autonomous aerial robot to perform mission objectives under 9 minutes. This competition is relevant to NASA because it challenges interdisciplinary university students to design an aerial system to perform actions that have never been considered possible. It puts students at the forefront of learning emerging technologies used in the aerospace field to tackle a seemingly “impossible” problem. Through active participation, members are able to foster their love for scientific learning and interest in the aerospace career field. Our past and current members have interned and been employed at leading aerospace companies, including NASA.


Jae Sung Park

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

UNL RockOn

Two teams of three students will be involved in the construction and presentation of a sounding rocket payload that has the potential to be launched as soon as June 2021. Kits with all materials necessary for the payload will be shipped to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. These kits will be distributed to the two teams and from April 1, 2021 to May 28, 2021, these teams need to complete construction and return the finished RockSat payload to the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. From April 5th to May 21st, 2021, the teams will have the opportunity to attend office hours and workshops hosted by aerospace professionals; during these meetings, the students will be able to ask questions and learn the necessary skills to complete their payloads.

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Tami Brown-Brandl

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Biological Systems Engineering

Engaging Youth in STEM Through Robotics

Youth choose whether or not they will pursue a STEM career at a very young age. It is vital to provide opportunities for students to explore science and technology in a fun and non-intimidating fashion. FIRST, For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, has a proven track record of encouraging students through friendly competition. As they prepare, students learn the engineering design process through building robots and writing age-appropriate computer code. We aim to work through local extension offices and their 4-H program to locate youth interested in STEM to start up to 10 new teams. Over the ten years of our program, we have engaged over 50 youth. Twenty-two of our former team members have graduated high school, over 65% of these students were in received top honors in their graduating class, and 10 are engineering majors. Funds from this grant will purchase robotics kits to engage youth (4th - 8th grade) in robotics teams.

Tracie Reding

Tracie Reding

University of Nebraska at Omaha, Department of Teacher Education 

Virtual Nebraska Robotics Expo 2021

The Virtual Nebraska Robotics Expo engages a minimum of 300 Nebraska youth, teacher team leaders and K-12 STEM teachers in an extraordinary collaborative robotics event that brings together CEENBoT® Robotics Showcase and the Creative Visual Arts Expo for a day of robotics inspiration showcasing students’ achievements in STEM and Art. The Expo is a celebration of in-school and after-school student work with robotics which aligns with NASA's . It encourages student involvement with STEM, and engages and educates student participants, their teachers, their families and the public about STEM opportunities in Nebraska.

Tiffany Sessions

Tiffany Sessions

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Extension/4H

NASA Space Grant 4-H Virtual Science Sessions

This project aims to create a unique set of packaged lending resources to support teachers and to engage underserved youth in Nebraska. These resources will include new video support resources and demonstration aides along with simple materials for the learning and practice of science concepts for teachers and informal educators during these times of physical separation due to pandemic risks. Exciting NASA activities that highlight resources from the NASA Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will be selected to best align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Nebraska Science Standards for middle school. The middle school science curriculum in Nebraska has a particularly strong focus on guiding students to understanding space and earth systems.These science learning content areas have been identified by K-12 education partners as ones being of particular need and interest.

Kendra Sibbernsen

Kendra Sibbernsen 

Metropolitan Community College/ Branched Oak Observatory

Branched Oak Observatory Outreach We currently have a PST Coronado Hydrogen-Alpha telescope that we use for outreach and to show safe solar views to the general public at events at Branched Oak Observatory. We would like to have a larger solar telescope for better views of solar activity to show the general public.

Additionally, we are building a solar panel system to power several observatory buildings at Branched Oak Observatory. Since the observing field does not have electric lines to power the facility, we are using solar power as a cost effective means of powering our buildings in addition to being eco-friendly. In the meantime, we are using generators that require the burning of gasoline and are very loud when they are running. We have purchased all of the components except the inverters which are the last items that we need before assembling the system.

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